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Braves are making Madison Bumgarner a “priority”

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Wanna feel what it’s like to have your brain explode? Then try this one on: Madison Bumgarner is younger than Stephen Strasburg.

I know, right? I re-learn that fact every year or two and still blows my dang mind.

Anyway, I mention that because Madison Bumgarner, like Strasburg, is a free agent, and yesterday NBC Sports California’s Alex Pavlovic reported that “[p]er league sources, the Braves have made Bumgarner a priority and planned to quickly communicate that to the left-hander.” Pavlovic characterizes the Braves as the “clear favorite” if Bumgarner decides to sign with a new team rather than ink a new deal with the Giants.

It’s a good fit at least on a superficial level. Bumgarner is a southern guy, hailing from North Carolina. For years people have joked that Bumgarner’s well-known habit of being the fun police with respect to opposing players celebrating is in keeping with the reputation the Braves have developed along those lines. I think it’s quite easy to overplay that kind of thing based on some isolated incidents, but there is at least a sense, based on what one can see of the Braves’ culture and Bumgarner’s temperament, that there’d be a good fit there.

More substantively, the Braves are currently a contender and the Giants are not so, if Bumgarner values playing for a winner more than the continuity and and comfort re-signing with the Giants might provide, it could inspire him to take his business across the country. For the Braves’ part, they could use another reliable starting pitcher and could certainly afford it.

And yeah, it’s weird to call Bumgarner merely “reliable” given that he has been one of the best in the game at times in his career. Over the past few seasons his ace-like status has taken a step or two back, however. He had a couple of freak, non-pitching-related injuries that shortened his 2017 and 2018 seasons and, in 2019, he posted his worst ERA+ in seven seasons. While he has given no indication that he’s tiring or breaking down due to all of the miles he’s put on his left arm over the past 11 seasons — his velocity and strikeout rates were up last season and he led the league in games started — the mileage is still there. He may be less of a number one starter than a number two guy now, at least on a contender.

But, obviously, there is a ton of value to what Bumgarner brings to the table. You have to figure that you can plug him into the rotation and expect 30+ starts and 200 innings, give or take, of above-average and occasionally great pitching. That’s a huge boon to any team, both for its own sake and for what a horse like he is can do to help preserve the bullpen arms in the heat of summer. And, quite obviously, the guy knows his way around the postseason.

The Braves are not, recently anyway, known for making the boldest of moves in the free agent market. But that could change pretty quickly based on this report.

If 2020 season is cancelled, which players would be hurt the most?

Miguel Cabrera
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Last week, I went over a few teams that stood to be hurt most if there were to be no 2020 season as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Today, we will look at some players who may be adversely effected by a lost year.

Milestones

Players chasing milestones, especially those towards the end of their careers, would be stymied by a lost season. Tigers DH and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is the first one that comes to mind. He is 23 home runs short of joining the 500 home run club. Though he hasn’t hit more than 16 in a year since 2016, he would likely have at least hit a few this year and would have had an easier time getting there in 2021. He turns 37 years old in 10 days. Cabrera may be under contract through 2023, but it is not clear that his age and his health would allow him to play regularly such that he would be able to reach 500 home runs if the 2020 season were to be cancelled. (Cabrera is also 185 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.)

Mike Trout has 285 home runs for his career. It’s almost a given that he would get to 300 and beyond in 2020. He is currently one of only 13 players with at least 250 home runs through his age-27 season. The only players with more: Álex Rodríguez (345), Jimmie Foxx (302), Eddie Mathews (299), and Ken Griffey Jr. (294). Trout likely would have also reached 1,000 runs for his career, as he is currently at 903. Losing a full season could really make a difference where he winds up on the all-time leaderboards at the end of his career.

Veteran catcher Yadier Molina will be a free agent at season’s end, though he and the Cardinals have expressed interest in a contract extension. He turns 38 this summer and is 37 hits shy of 2,000 for his career. Even if this season never happens, Molina will likely join the 2,000 hit club in 2021 whether or not he signs a multi-year extension. Molina is also 84 RBI shy of 1,000 and 21 doubles shy of 400.

Free Agents

Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts and Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto headline the free agent class heading into the 2021 season. Even if there eventually is a 2020 season, or something resembling it, teams are losing money across the board and that will result in stinginess in the free agent market. Make no mistake, Betts and Realmuto, as well as Trevor Bauer, Marcus Semien, and Marcus Stroman will still get paid handsomely, but they likely won’t get as much as they would following a typical year. The players that really stand to get hurt are the mid-tier free agents, whose cost won’t match their relative upside — players like James McCann, Howie Kendrick, Yuli Gurriel, DJ LeMahieu, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Turner, Michael Grantley, Marcell Ozuna, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jay Bruce, and Josh Reddick.

2020-21 Draftees and International Free Agents

At the end of March, MLB and the MLB Players Association reached an agreement on a deal covering issues including service time, pay during the pandemic, and the amateur draft. In exchange for players on active rosters getting credit for a full year of service time whether or not there is a 2020 season, the league got the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and the 2021 draft to 20 rounds. The league also gained the right to delay the start of the 2020 and 2021-22 international signing periods.

The MLBPA effectively sold out what will be their future union members. A shortened draft this year and/or next year would mean that players who would otherwise have been drafted this year will go undrafted and thus will either become unsigned free agents or return to the draft next year as part of a crowded pool of players. Likewise, pushing back the international signing period will add more players to the market at the same time. This, obviously, benefits ownership as a surplus of labor diminishes those laborers’ leverage.

Bounce-back Candidates

Players coming off of injuries or otherwise down years in 2019 were hoping to use 2020 to bounce back, reestablishing themselves in the league. Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani didn’t pitch at all last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was hopeful to rejoin the starting rotation at some point in the first half of a normal 2020 season. We learned yesterday that Ohtani is expected to throw off a mound “soon.” If a 2020 season does happen, it likely wouldn’t begin for another couple of months at minimum, which should afford him enough time to get into pitching shape.

Ohtani’s teammate and perennial Gold Glove Award candidate Andrelton Simmons played in only 103 games last season due to an ankle injury. He mustered a meager .673 OPS as well, compiling just 1.9 WAR, his lowest total in any season since debuting in 2012. In 2017, he peaked at 7.8 WAR and put up 6.3 the following season. Simmons will become a free agent after the 2020 season, so he most certainly needed a healthy and productive 2020 to maximize his leverage on the market.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, now 36 years old, is coming off of the worst offensive season of his career. He hit .261/.357/.411 with 15 home runs and 47 RBI in 608 plate appearances, continuing a downward trend. He registered a 167 adjusted OPS as recently as 2017, but that declined to 126 in ’18 and 98 last year. The Reds, back to being competitive, were definitely banking on a bounce-back year from Votto. (Votto, by the way, is also 56 RBI short of the 1,000 milestone for his career.)